Climate Change – Are the Weather Extremes in Australia Due to Carbon Emissions?

We cannot blame any single event on global warming but we can expect to experience an increase in both the number and severity of extreme weather events. So what have we coped with in the first part of 2009?

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  • Queensland started the year with a stronger than usual monsoonal trough which has flooded more than half the state. Much of it is still flooded. Some towns were flooded twice and had just cleaned up when the second flood came.
  • South Australia and Victoria had record breaking heatwaves. Adelaide, where I live, had 2 weeks over the old century and a lot of it was way over . I can cope with 35C but 45.6C is definitely excessive. It was like living in an oven and totally debilitating. It also had two negative effects on global warming – power consumption went through the roof as people struggled to keep cool and air conditioners barely coped and much worse, many trees that were already suffering from drought and water restrictions gave up and died. Quite a lot of people died too.
  • Then Victoria had the most appalling bushfires totally destroying towns bushland and thousands of animals both domestic and native.
  • Queensland has just been super lucky with Cyclone Hamish a category 5, same as hurricane Katrina in the USA. Thankfully Hamish skirted along the coast and did not come ashore but it did wreck a trawler with 2 crew still missing and damage a container ship leaving a large oil spill along a long area of pristine beaches.
  • This week Cummins on Eyre Peninsular had a tornado. While we do get Willie willies and always have, they are very seldom tornado size.

It has been a lot to cope with in a short time. If the predictions are right and heaven knows I would love them not to be, we can expect much more of this. And we can expect more drought.

At the same time our usually beautiful Murray River is in serious trouble due to long term drought and over exploitable by irrigators wholesale hotel furniture . This is very much complicated by interstate rivalries about who “owns” the water but the bottom line is that the lower Murray is shallow mess with rapidly increasing acid sulphate soil problems. Who is to blame is not as relevant as the lack of water.

This plus the global economic crisis and increasing job losses sets the framework for the emission trading legislation being introduced this week. The Government wants it to go though fast so that it can be bedded down before the Copenhagen summit next year.  This all sound great but is it?   It is only demanding a 5% target moving up to 15%. The rest of the world is going for 20% and we really need 40% moving up to 80% reduction by 2050.

Australians emit more greenhouse gases per head than anyone else on the planet The two that come near us are USA and Canada. The main reason for this high level of emissions is our huge coal industry which is used for much of our electricity and is a major export industry. Under the draft legislation, the coal industry will be compensated for the emission trading scheme but not exempted. Thank heavens for that! It is hard to see how we can reduce our emissions if there is no incentive to the coal industry to do so. 

When it comes to coal there is a wide range of opinion ranging from those who don’t believe there is a problem through to those who vigorously campaign about coal as the enemy. I sit somewhere in the middle. I cannot see how closing an industry of that size is in anyway possible without major economic chaos. And the result would be that China would simply burn dirtier coal from worse managed mine sites so that the total environmental effect would be worse than now. I would like to see the coal industry compulsorily contributing to a clean coal research fund themselves instead of expecting the Government to fund it. This would free up more government research funding for soil carbon research and the support of clean energy production. I would like to see our coal sold with the clean coal technology going along with it to help developing countries use it sustainably

The aim of the ETS should be as an incentive for high emitters to reduce their impact and to encourage clean energy research and development so that there is a level playing field instead of coal energy being so much cheaper.

So as Australians we have a problem. We are the worst affected continent and the biggest per head emissions of greenhouse gases. Our climatic and weather extremes are likely to get worse. We have an urgent need to ALL start to reducing our carbon footprint both at home and at work. This includes both pulling major business emitters into line with financial incentives that they can’t just be exempted from and also by helping the small businesses and individual households to understand how easy it can be to reduce waste and simply turn unnecessary things off.

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